NOTE: This post has been UPDATED. See last paragraph.
Last night I attended the Centennial Anniversary Dinner for the Washington, DC Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) at the Washington Hilton. I was invited by Andy Shallal (pictured with Councilmember-at-Large Anita Bonds), who’s considering a run for Mayor of the Capital City. This was the first time I attended an NAACP dinner, so I went for the cultural experience of the event and the organization.
The first thing I noticed was the political significance of NAACP events during an election cycle local as well as national. I hear the chatter around NAACP appearances during presidential campaigns — who accepted the invitation and showed up at the NAACP national convention and who didn’t or
politically politely declined. Yesterday evening’s cocktail event was your opportunity to engage DC’s candidates for Mayor — declared Council member candidates Tommy Wells, Murial Bowser, and [I heard] Jack Evans (made an appearance at the cocktail hour). Say what you may about the NAACP’s local chapters. Their members organize registration drives and are on the ground and get out the vote.
Mayor Vincent Gray was at the cocktail hour and on the program as a guest speaker. Mayor Gray hasn’t declared if he will run for a second term. Speculation says everything’s pending on the outcomes of investigations by U.S. attorneys of corruption by his campaign staff during his first mayoral run. But Gray came with a message for DC statehood, his rallying cry. And the audience embraced “New Columbia” (the working title name for the 51st state) with open arms.
Andy was on the honorary host committee for the Centennial Dinner as the owner of Busboys and Poets and Eatonville. This contribution came with a table. Other honorary host committee members included DC council members, mayoral candidates, business owners, ministers, and the “Most Worshipful Grand Master Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons.” Elected officials spoke. Others played host at their tables.
The theme of the evening was “Honoring Our Legacy, Celebrating Our Next Generation.” Julian Bond, president emeritus of the NAACP, prominent Civil Rights activists and member of SNCC, gave the keynote speech. Bond has made many appearances this year honoring the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. And he’s repeated at each occasion the stories of the behind-the-scenes military and police preparations for the peaceful March by the U.S. government that would resemble gearing up for a post-911 terrorist attack today.
Oddly, after all the prayers, introductions, speeches, this event did not kick off with the singing of the “Negro anthem,” “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a ceremonial tradition of the NAACP and similar kinds of events. In fact, there was no art present at the event. No music (DJ’ed, piped in or live). No Powerpoint slide projections or film clips celebrating or visualizing the future for the organizations. No flowers on the table. What would W.E.B. DuBois who championed and published the work of artists in “The Crisis” say? There was a reference from the podium to the enjoyment of “libations” during the cocktail hour. I kept to water and coffee. For me, the most culturally significant representation of the evening was the Gingerbread cupcake served for dessert. I reminded Andy, gingerbread was Zora Neale Hurston’s and her Eatonville town’s favorite dessert. Zora whipped it up during hard times and served it with buttermilk (when she couldn’t pay for shrimp); Eatonville made some in the frying pan before dishing out the dirt to Zora for her folklore collecting.
I’ve said before, when a movement has no music (and no art for that matter), you don’t have a movement. You don’t connect. Something has quietly died in the movement, or is on life support. Did this happen when the music died? Even ministers know, the right music punctuates the message from the pulpit.
Today, candidates pick up petitions to gather signatures for getting their names on the ballot. Andy Shallal will be the guest on WAMU FM’s Kojo Nnamdi Show’s “Politics Hour” today at noon.“ What do any of the candidates and community organizations bring to the table that lifts not only the economic prosperity of people, but the prosperity of the human mind and spirit? One cannot exist without the other. The candidate who makes this connection will definitely breakout from the political herd.
UPDATE: Many years ago someone shared a story about W.E.B. DuBois describing that in his later years DuBois kept strict hours, ending an intellectually enriching and productive day faithfully at 10 PM to retire. I’ve incorporated the “DuBois hours” into my own life as often as I can. Since launching this post, I was informed by a member of the DC Chapter of the NAACP that “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and an “art presentation” ended the evening’s event after my early departure. Therefore, this post reflects my observations of the event until 9:45 PM.